Cash Conscious

Your Top 5 Money-Saving Cruise Questions—Answered!

What you don't know can cost you. We asked industry experts for their best tips on cruise savings, from where to book to how much to tip—and more.

"Our advice is to book the flights yourself and get in early," says Spencer Brown. "Even from New York to South Florida, I always depart a day or so ahead of time and then stay in a hotel or with friends for a night to make 100 percent sure I'm in the port town on the morning of departure." You'll end up spending a little bit extra on the hotel, but the money you spend there is better than the money you'd lose if you miss the boat.

4. Do I have to tip everyone who does anything for me during a cruise?
Thankfully, most cruise lines have streamlined their tipping procedures. Ships now charge your account a set amount each day—$6 to $15 per person per day is typical—that covers all restaurant personnel and your cabin steward. (If you're not sure if your line incorporates gratuity, it's a good idea to ask when you check in.) If your steward has gone way above and beyond, you may want to tip him or her an additional $20 in cash; many cruise lines will include an envelope in your room, typically marked "Gratuity" in case you wish to leave extra money, but it's not expected. On the flip side, if you feel dissatisfied with your service and don't believe it merits the set rate, you can speak to the ship's purser before the cruise is over and change the amount. Finally, remember that when you buy drinks, from soda to morning OJ to cocktails, you will be charged an auto-gratuity on almost all ships; 15 to 18 percent is the norm. Note that in spite of this, checks still come with a line for gratuity—feel free to ignore with a clear conscience.

Related:  Ask Trip Coach: Ocean Cruising

5. Speaking of drinks, is there any way to get around all the extra charges associated with booze?
Long story short: It's going to cost you to imbibe on board. Drink prices on everything from bottles of beer to top-shelf margaritas have risen steadily in recent years, and you can't really BYOB. If you buy alcohol in port or in the duty-free shop, the ship's personnel will hold it until the cruise ends. Several lines, including Carnival and Norwegian, will allow you to bring one bottle of champagne or wine onboard, but they charge a corkage fee of around $10 to $15 if you drink it in a restaurant or public area. All of this may sound discouraging, but look at it this way: If you know ahead of time that drinks will be pricey, then at least you can factor that into your budget. A bottle of Corona onboard, for instance, will typically set you back $5, while a top-shelf margarita will run around $9. Be realistic about how much you'll want to drink and then allot yourself a daily budget for doing so.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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